What Are the Different Types of Attraction?
When you meet someone, you may find yourself attracted to them. If you're drawn to touch them, then that would be a physical attraction. If they're kind, sweet, and open about their feelings, that would be an emotional attraction. That's right: There are different types of attraction.
Just like there's no one way to love, there's no one way to be attracted to another person — which can sometimes be confusing if, say, you're romantically attracted to someone, but not sexually attracted to them. And, of course, what one person finds attractive, can easily make another person cringe.
"Attraction is profoundly personal," says Natasha Marie, sexual wellness expert at MysteryVibe, an award-winning sex toy brand. "As the adage goes, 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder,' and multi-faceted. However, pop culture peddles another, flatter version of attraction: an inherent assumption that when you are 'attracted' to someone, it's all-encompassing, meaning you are, all at once, romantically, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and sexually attracted to that person."
But attraction isn't so simple. "It's as dynamic and different as each of our personalities because it's a reflection of personality and values," says Marie.
So, at its core, what is attraction? It's really the act of being drawn to someone or something, according to Merriam-Webster. And from there, you can separate the "why" it into different types of attraction.
There doesn't appear to be a set number or list of all the different types of attraction that everyone in the relationship and sex community agrees upon. (There isn't a book or definite theory around it the way there is with love languages or relationship attachment styles.) However, there are five types of attraction that are most commonly addressed:
- Sexual attraction
- Romantic attraction
- Physical attraction
- Emotional attraction
- Aesthetic attraction
"There are many ways attraction can be interpreted, expressed, and manifested," says Marie. "While defining 'types' of attraction might feel like a semantics game, it's helpful and liberating in successfully navigating relationship dynamics. By understanding and acknowledging the broad spectrum of emotions we're capable of feeling toward one another, we can free ourselves from any limiting narratives about 'attraction' and 'attractiveness.'"
The 5 Most Common Types of Attraction
Sexual attraction might not leave much to the imagination because it's just that: being sexually attracted to someone and having the desire to be with them on a physical and intimate level. But it doesn't stop there. For example, sexual attraction doesn't have to be limited to someone you know in real life. It can spill over into a fantasy world and stay confined there.
"If someone inspires arousal, lust, or physiological excitement in you, this is sexual attraction," says Marie. Which, if you read between the lines, basically gives the okay and go-ahead to experience this type of attraction for, oh, I don't know…Timothée Chalamet. (It's kind of hard to not be inspired to arousal as long as he's out there with that wavy hair of his.)
"When we hear the word 'attraction,' we often default to sexual attraction," says Marie. "Societally, there's a lot of emphasis on sexual attraction being the apex of all attraction, but let's dispel that mythology. Sexual attraction is just one type of a wide breadth of experiences." (Also read: What Is Sexual Chemistry, Exactly?)
This narrow-minded view of attraction being solely sexual is heavily influenced by the "sex sells" attitude and "heteronormative and religious ideals that focus on reproduction being the end-all goal for humanity," says Marie.
There are also layers to sexual attraction that are sometimes ignored. You can be sexually attracted to someone briefly, have a one-night stand with them, then the sexual attraction fades into another form of attraction or completely exists the equation. One's sexual attraction can also exist for several people at once or just one person for their entire life.
Although no more or less complicated, romantic attraction tends to run deeper than sexual attraction as there's a yearning for a connection that isn't strictly about sex.
"Romantic attraction is wanting to be involved intimately with another person or develop a relationship that focuses on mutually beneficial connections and experiences," says Marie. "You may feel personally invested or want to be invested in another person's life, feelings, and experiences. These feelings share similarities with friendships but extend beyond traditional friendship in that romantic attraction tends to be concentrated on a particular person and may register more profoundly than existing friendships."
Of course, the different types of attraction can exist together. Romantic attractions can include sexual attraction and emotional attraction for some, but not for everyone. For example, someone who is asexual can experience romantic attraction to someone without experiencing any sexual attraction, says Marie. (On the slip side, the absence of experiencing romantic attraction is known as being aromantic.)
Not to be confused with sexual attraction, physical attraction is more about the longing of wanting to be physically close to a particular person and to touch them or be touched by them.
"Physical attraction is the desire for a sensual and tactile connection that may hold sexual, emotional, or romantic implications, but it doesn't necessitate them," says Marie. "Some people resonate with tactile stimuli independent of sex and romance, such as hugs, cuddles, holding hands, or massages. For example, you may enjoy cuddling with a friend but don't want to have sex with them. You can just enjoy sharing proximity, company, and contact with them." (Think: the "physical touch" love language.)
Physical touch, whether it be between lovers, friends, family, or you and your pet is an expression of love and affection — as such, it makes physical attraction a very real type of attraction.
"Touch is a fundamental human expression we experience at a very early age," says Marie. "As infants, we instinctively know to touch before we develop verbal communication skills. As children, if we are held, coddled, and cared for with touch, that is how we learn to express affection, and this can carry on into our adult relationships." (See: The Scientific Benefits of Human Touch — and How to Get More of It No Matter Your Relationship Status)
When it comes to emotional attraction, it's more about a desire for intimacy than anything else.
"At the heart of emotional attraction is connection," says Marie. "We are social creatures that crave the compassion and camaraderie of our community. Emotional attraction is a shared experience of expressing and/or receiving love, respect, support, and acceptance because of someone's mind and personality."
What you get out of this type of attraction and this connection is the sharing of hopes, fears, dreams, and values — that's not only what creates the attraction, but builds a relationship, whether it's platonic or romantic. (See: What Is Intimacy, and How Do You Built It In a Relationship?)
"Emotional attraction can exist separately but may also contribute to other types of attraction," says Marie. "For example, a demisexual is a person who requires a deep emotional connection to develop a sexual or romantic relationship."
What's interesting about aesthetic attraction is that it doesn't necessarily involve being attracted to someone, as much as appreciating how they look. It doesn't usually include the desire for sex, touch, intimacy, or romance, as much as it's a focus on what one finds beautiful.
"Aesthetic attraction is purely about appearance," says Marie. "For example, if you appreciate the physique of a Calvin Klein model but don't feel sexual desire or even really want to know them personally, that's aesthetic attraction."
Granted, this isn't to suggest that if the CK model jumped off the billboard and asked you out, you'd say "no." But the date would likely be about being with someone extremely easy on the eyes, someone you enjoy looking at, maybe even ogling a little too long, but that's where it ends. (Related: How Important Is Perceived Attractiveness In a Relationship?)
How the Types of Attraction Can Help You Navigate Relationships
It's possible for everyone to experience all of these types of attractions to different people at different points in life. You can also experience multiple types of attractions for one person or have an attraction that's purely physical evolve into a sexual and romantic attraction. Or, in some cases, an attraction for someone can just simply disappear. Attraction isn't set in stone; it's ever-evolving based on who you are, where you've been, what you know about yourself and your needs, and your past experiences — no matter if your relationships are platonic, sexual, romantic, or otherwise.
"Having awareness of each of these types of attractions can give you a bit of a roadmap to your reactions," says Tracy Crossley, a behavioral relationship expert. "What that means is many times we do not know why we are attracted to someone and may not be paying attention to exactly what it is we find attractive. By looking at the definition for each, it could help a person to have that sort of self-awareness when choosing a date, mate, or friend."
That self-awareness about your motivation is paramount when it comes to relationships, says Crossley. "By knowing your 'why,' you won't lie to yourself about the nature of the attraction and may be able to better navigate reality rather than the fantasy many people find themselves in," she says. (For example, it might help you understand what you want out of your current situationship.)
In addition to having an understanding of these five types of attraction, it can take time to identify exactly which ones you're feeling for someone, says Marie.
"There can be a bit of a learning curve," says Marie. "You don't need to know immediately, and you can always explore several avenues: That's the beauty of human interaction. If you try dating someone and find you aren't connecting as you thought, you can redefine the relationship. And that choice is beautiful."
Although there's no right or wrong way to be attracted to someone, being able to identify these five most common types of attraction can give you an idea of where you stand in regard to your feelings for someone and how you want to pursue them, or maybe even back off if you're not in the right place at the moment, says Crossley. (Related: What You Can Learn from the Triangular Theory of Love)
"Attraction should make you happy and serve your relationships," says Marie. "The only litmus of navigating attraction in your relationships is you and how you feel about a person."
If you think of attraction like a compass, as another tool to help you navigate your way through all types of relationships, it will guide you in developing relationships that work for you while giving you the opportunity to delve deeper into your self-awareness.